Friday, February 28, 2014

Yanukovych: 'I Am The Legitimate President Of Ukraine'

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- Seated in front of four Ukrainian flags but speaking in Russian, Yanukovych said he was not removed from power, but fled Kiev out of fear for his life from "terrorists."

Ukraine's ousted President Viktor Yanukovych addresses a news conference in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on Feb. 28.

"I am the legitimate president of Ukraine, elected by the people of Ukraine, and was elected in a free and democratic vote," he declared. 

Speaking to reporters in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, he said he has not met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but said Moscow "cannot stay indifferent" to events in Ukraine.

He said Russia should "use all the leverage it has to prevent the chaos, the terror, that is unfolding in Ukraine" but added, "I do not accept any attempts for an intervention to break the sovereignty and integrity of Ukrainian territory."

Yanukovych's remarks come against the backdrop of new tensions in Ukraine, including the takeover of an airport near Sevastopol in Ukraine Friday by unidentified armed men who may belong to the Russian military.

On other points: 

• He denied that he ordered police to open fire on protesters in Kiev during massive demonstrations that left more than 80 people dead.

• He said he would not take part in May presidential elections that were set up under a Feb. 21 agreement reached between he, opposition leaders and the foreign ministers of France, Poland,Germany and Russia.

• He vowed "to keep on fighting for Ukraine's future" against new Ukrainian authorities that he described as "illegitimate."

Asked why he left Kiev for eastern Ukraine and eventually Russia after the agreement was announced, Yanukovych said he feared for his life and that his car had been "shot at from all sides."

"Nobody overthrew me, I was forced to leave Ukraine under the immediate threat to my life and the life of my family," he told reporters.

At one point he apologized for the unrest in Ukraine, saying "I didn't have the power and strength to maintain stability and to prevent it from happening."

He called for all sides to implement an agreement signed by him and the foreign ministers of France, Poland, Germany and Russia that that would set up new elections.

Parts of the agreement were been largely surpassed after Ukraine's parliament stripped Yanukovych of his presidency and elected an interim leader and new cabinet.

While Yanukovych spoke in southern Russia, tensions mounted in Ukraine's Crimea region with the takeover of the airport near Sevastopol by pro-Russian groups. 

Ukraine's State Border Guard also reported that a coast guard base had been surrounded by about 30 Russian marines, the Associated Press reports.

Ukraine's interior minister called the move an "armed invasion."

"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Ukraine's new Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote in a post on Facebook.

The Russian foreign ministry refused to comment to the Associated Press, but Russia's defense ministry told the Interfax news agency that there had been "no provocative acts in relation to units and divisions" from Russian forces stationed in the region.

Dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings have also apparently taken over the main airport in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, although it has not been confirmed that the men at either airport belong to Russian military units.

There were also reports that some of the men have started to partially withdraw. 

While no violence has so far been reported, any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine's conflict, which saw the pro-Russian president flee last weekend after three months of anti-government protests.

Moscow has vowed to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea, where it has a major naval base, and Ukraine and the West have warned Russia to stay away.

"There is an acute need right now to support our families, make them secure, and protect our society," said Andrey Sitnikov in Sevastopol, who says he is there as private citizen.

At Sevastopol's Belbek International Airport on Friday, around 15 to 20 members of a Ukrainian political party called the Russian Bloc representing ethnic Russians set up an informal blockade to support the armed men with their own civilian barricade a hundred meters from the airport.

A private car has coffee, tea and sandwiches in its open trunk, free for anyone to take.

A Russian truck with insignias and number plates removed was spotted exiting the Sevastopol airport.

More checkpoints have been set up in the strongly pro-Russian city scrutinizing all arrivals and Reuters reported that Russian military helicopters have traveled to the Crimea.

The blockade may signal an unwillingness to negotiate with Kiev, said Yaroslav Pylynskyi, director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, a policy research institute in Kiev.

"I heard the people blocking the airport were trying to prevent people from Kiev coming for negotiations," he said.

"The [ethnic Russians in Crimea] did not want negotiations, because they are being controlled by Moscow. I guess they also do not know what to do in that situation." 

Responding to the situation on Friday, Ukrainian lawmakers asked the the United Nations' Security Council to address the country's political turmoil.

On Thursday, armed men seized the Crimea parliament as Russian jets streaked near the border and a newly created Ukraine government formed to try to end a crisis that threatens to split the country following the ouster of its president.

After capturing the parliament and government offices in Simferopol the masked men raised the Russian flag over the parliament building.

Authorities in Switzerland and Austria moved to freeze any funds belonging to the former leader or his family and allies.

In a separate development Friday, the National Bank of Ukraine — the nation's central bank — put a $1,500 limit on foreign currency withdrawals in a bid to counter falling values in the hryvnia, Ukraine's currency.

Source: AP

Crimea: A Gift To Ukraine Becomes A Political Flash Point

WASHINGTON, DC -- In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave Ukraine a gift: Crimea. At the time, it seemed like a routine move, but six decades later, that gift is having consequences for both countries.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was Russian but felt an affinity with Ukraine. His decision to give Crimea to Ukraine is having consequences today.

The transfer merited only a paragraph in Pravda, the official Soviet newspaper, on Feb. 27, 1954.

The story was one long sentence and dense with detail.

Here's what it said: "Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet transferring Crimea Province from the Russian Republic to the Ukraine Republic, taking into account the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic ties between Crimea Province and the Ukraine Republic, and approving the joint presentation of the Presidium of the Russian Republic Supreme Soviet and the Presidium of the Ukraine Republic Supreme Soviet on the transfer of Crimea Province from the Russian Republic to the Ukraine Republic."

And with that, a region that had been part of Russia for centuries was "gifted" to Ukraine.

"Gifted" because Khrushchev's transfer was ostensibly to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine's merger with the Russian empire.

And he probably didn't think that the Soviet Union would be gone less than 40 years later.

But, asks Lewis Siegelbaum, a historian at Michigan State University, "what motivated such generosity?"

Writing on the website Seventeen Moments In Soviet History, he says:

"After all, Crimea, the rugged peninsula jutting into the Black Sea, had not become territorially contiguous with Ukraine all of a sudden."

Siegelbaum argues that Crimea's cultural links with Russia were far stronger, and, at the time, there were slightly more than three Russians in Crimea for each Ukrainian.

(Stalin had expelled the entire local Tatar population a decade earlier.)

And, Siegelbaum says, the idea that Crimea and Ukraine had economic similarities, as Pravda noted, was a stretch, since the peninsula was mostly a tourist destination for the rest of the Soviet Union. 

There were other reasons for the handover, though. Ukraine's great famine, or Holodomor, was created by Joseph Stalin, Khrushchev's predecessor; millions died.

Stalin died in 1953, and when Khrushchev took over, "the idea was that they really needed to democratize the system, to centralize it less," says Nina Khrushcheva, Khruschev's great-granddaughter and an associate professor of international affairs at The New School in New York.

"It was somewhat symbolic, somewhat trying to reshuffle the centralized system and also, full disclosure, Nikita Khrushchev was very fond of Ukraine," she tells NPR's David Greene.

"So I think to some degree it was also a personal gesture toward his favorite republic. He was ethnically Russian, but he really felt great affinity with Ukraine."

As a teenager, Khrushchev went to work in Ukraine's mines.

He then joined the Communist Party and rose up through the ranks.

He married a Ukrainian woman and considered Ukraine "one of his native lands," Khrushcheva says.

Khrushcheva, the author of the upcoming The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey Into the Gulag of the Russian Mind, spent time as a child with the Soviet leader.

Russians have a decidedly different view of the events.

On Feb. 19, 2009, Pravda ran a piece with the headline: "USSR's Nikita Khrushchev gave Russia's Crimea away to Ukraine in only 15 minutes."

Here's how the article described the events:

"Khrushchev informed his comrades of the decision to deliver Crimea to Ukraine incidentally, on the way to lunch.

'Yes, comrades, there is an opinion to deliver Crimea to Ukraine,' he said casually.

No one dared to express any protests, because a word of the first face of the Communist Party was law.

"The agenda of the session of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which took place January 25, 1954, contained a question about the delivery of the Crimean region to the structure of the Ukrainian SSR [Soviet Socialist Republic].

The discussion of the question took only 15 minutes.

The participants of the meeting approved the decree, and the region was given away to Ukraine for free."

As Siegelbaum, the MSU historian, notes in his essay:

"A gift that was at the time essentially meaningless has acquired great historical importance."

Source: NPR

Russian Troop Movements Near Ukraine Raise Concerns, U.S. Official Says

WASHINGTON, DC -- Russian military exercises near Ukraine are raising concerns that Moscow may be putting troops in position to move across the border if such orders are issued, a senior U.S. official familiar with the most recent administration assessment told CNN Thursday.

Vladimir Putin

But the United States still believes that Russia doesn't plan to order its forces into its tumultuous neighbor, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials -- who are monitoring the area 24 hours a day -- have not yet seen signs that Russia is preparing to secure supply and transportation routes that would be crucial to any such movement, the official said.

Russian military activity levels observed by the United States also "appear to be within normal range," the official said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offered reassurances Thursday to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the exercises were previously planned and were not being carried out because of the upheaval in Ukraine, echoing an earlier conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said the combat readiness evaluation is being carried out in territory overseen by the western and central military commands.

That puts some of the exercises near the Ukraine border.

"All in all, about 150 thousand military personnel of different services of the armed forces and military commands are involved in the check," Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said in a statement released by the ministry.

"Up to 90 planes, more than 120 helicopters, up to 880 tanks, over 1,200 defense equipment units and about 80 ships will be used."

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, where he was meeting with NATO defense ministers, that the United States was following the developments in and around Ukraine.

"Until we really know more details -- what's really happening there, who is in charge, I think the focus should be ... let's keep the tensions down. Let's see no provocative actions by anyone, any military," he said.

One concern is that with Russian troops out of their garrisons near Ukraine, they could be in a position to move swiftly across the border -- leaving little time for U.S. officials to try to mount diplomatic efforts to stop them, the official said.

But, for now, U.S. officials believe Putin is using the hastily ordered exercises only as a message to U.S. and Ukrainian officials that he has the ability to move his military into Ukraine to protect Russian interests if he chooses to, the official said.

Russia has significant interests in Ukraine.

Not only does it neighbor Ukraine, the two countries are major trading partners.

Many ethnic Russians live in Ukraine's east, and Russia has a major military base at Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Russian officials have complained that opposition figures who have taken control of Ukraine's government are threatening pro-Russian Ukrainians.

The United States is reviewing Russian tactics in its 2008 move into Georgia for clues about how Moscow might act in this instance.

In that incident, Russian forces fought troops from Georgia in a brief conflict that followed Russian promises to defend Russian citizens in the restive Georgian province of South Ossetia.

U.S. officials worry about a repeat of that incident, in which both sides perceived provocative actions and Russia finally moved in on a large scale.

Any military intervention by Russia would be a "grave mistake," Kerry warned Wednesday.

"For a country that has spoken out so frequently in the last year ... against foreign intervention in Libya, Syria, elsewhere, it would be important for them to heed those warnings as they think about options in the sovereign nation of Ukraine," he said. 

Source: CNN

UPDATE: Crimea Airport In Ukraine Blocked By Russian Army, Ukraine Says

SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine -- Russian military units were blocking an airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea near the Russian naval base while unidentified men were patrolling another airport serving the regional capital, Ukraine's new interior minister said Friday.

An armed man patrols at the airport in Simferopol, Crimea on Friday, when a group of armed men in military uniforms have seized the main regional airport in the area, Interfax news agency said.

Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post that the Belbek international airport in Sevastopol is blocked by military units of the Russian navy.

"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Avakov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry refused to comment while a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry was not available for comment.

Early on Friday, dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings were seen patrolling the airport in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.

An Associated Press photographer saw military men armed with assault rifles Friday morning patrolling the airport.

The men, who were wearing uniforms without any insignia, refused to talk to journalists, and it was not immediately clear who they were.

On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building.

The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighbouring Russia.

It scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

Russia also has granted shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, after recent deadly protests in Kiev swept in a new government.

Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled Friday in Russia's south near the Ukrainian border.

He has not been seen publicly since Saturday, and he declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine's legitimate president.

Ukraine's parliament on Thursday elected a new government led by a pro-Western technocrat who promptly pledged to prevent any national break-up. Moscow has been sending mixed signals about Ukraine but pledged to respect its territorial integrity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine — a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization — closer into Moscow's orbit.

The escalating conflict has sent Ukraine's finances plummeting, prompting Western leaders to prepare an emergency financial package.

For Ukraine's neighbours, the spectre of Ukraine breaking up evoked memories of centuries of bloody conflict.

"Regional conflicts begin this way," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Thursday, calling the confrontation "a very dangerous game."

Ukraine's new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, on Thursday said the country's future lies in the European Union, but with friendly relations with Russia.

On Thursday, masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag over the parliament building.

The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighbouring Russia.

It scrambled fighter jets on Thursday to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation reminiscent of Cold War brinksmanship.

Russia also has granted shelter to Ukraine's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, after recent deadly protests in Kiev swept in a new government.

Yanukovych has a news conference scheduled Friday in Russia's south near the Ukrainian border.

He has not been seen publicly since Saturday, and he declared Thursday in a statement that he remains Ukraine's legitimate president.

It only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia — a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In a bid to shore up Ukraine's fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund has said it is "ready to respond" to Ukraine's bid for financial assistance.

The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

Ukraine's finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default.

A divided Ukraine 

European loyalties run highest in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country, while the eastern half generally falls more into the Russian orbit.

Source: AP

Yanukovych Escorted To Russia By Fighter Jets – Report

MOSCOW, Russia -- Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych landed at a military airport in southern Russia late on Thursday escorted by fighter jets, a local news agency has reported.

A man takes photos of a "Wanted" notice, of fugitive Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich, plastered on the window of a car used as barricade near Kiev's Independent.

Yanukovych, whose whereabouts have since his ouster been subject of feverish speculation, is scheduled to hold a news conference in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don at 5 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) on Friday.

“The plane with the embattled president onboard was escorted by several fighter jets. The boom of supersonic engines was heard for half an hour in the northwestern part of the city, where the airport is located,” local news agency DonInformBuro reported.

Yanukovych is staying at private premises in Rostov-on-Don, instead of a government residence for top officials, and no additional security forces have been deployed, the agency reported citing its own sources.

Yanukovych, whom Ukraine put on an international wanted list on mass murder charges, said in a statement Thursday he was still the legitimate president of his country and that he had been forced to ask Russia to ensure his personal security from “extremists.”

Anonymous government sources in Moscow said Thursday that Russia had accepted Yanukovych's request for security.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin ordered the government Thursday to hold consultations with international partners, including the International Monetary Fund, to provide financial assistance to Ukraine and develop a humanitarian aid package to Crimea.

"Putin instructed the Russian government to continue contacts with partners in Kiev regarding the development of trade and economic ties between Russia and Ukraine", Peskov said.

The toppling of Yanukovych’s government at the weekend has provoked a wave of pro-Russian rallies in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, particularly in the Crimean Peninsula, where ethnic Russians are in a majority.

A purported decree by Yanukovych mandating that the country’s leadership and law enforcement agencies be transferred to the port city of Sevastopol in Crimea was read out before pro-Russian protesters gathered outside the peninsula’s parliament building in the town of Simferopol on Thursday.

Sources close to Yanukovych have said, however, that they consider the decree distributed via the Internet to be fake.

The Crimean parliament voted Thursday to approve Serhiy Aksenov, leader of the Russian Unity party, as head of the region’s government.

The new prime minister immediately pledged allegiance to Yanukovych, saying that he still considered him Ukraine's legitimate head of state.

On Thursday evening, the parliament resolved to hold the referendum giving Crimea greater autonomy on May 25.

Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when it was transferred to the Ukrainian republic within the Soviet Union.

Russia has a large naval base on the peninsula on which it recently extended a lease until 2042.

Source: RIA Novosti

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Russia And Nato To Face Off Over Ukraine

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has ordered units in its western borderlands to begin a snap combat drills in reaction to the fall of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Tensions on the Crimean peninsular soared have after Vladimir Putin put the Russian army on high alert and Nato officials warned they would back the “inviolability of [Ukraine’s] frontiers”.

The flurry of sabre rattling over the future of post-revolutionary Ukraine brought tensions between Russia and the West to a height not seen since the 2008 war between Russian and Georgia.

It came as there were unconfirmed reports that Viktor Yanukovych, the former president ousted from power by protesters last weekend who is now wanted by Ukraine’s authorities for mass murder, had taken refuge at a luxury sanatorium just outside Moscow.

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, ordered units in Russia’s Western military district - which borders Ukraine - to begin a series of snap combat readiness drills, beginning on Wednesday afternoon.

The drill would “check the troops’ readiness for action in crisis situations that threaten the nation’s military security”, he said in a statement.

It would involve around 150,000 army, air force and navy personnel.

Moscow also said it was “carefully watching what is happening in Crimea”, taking measures to ensure the security of the facilities and arsenals of its Black Sea naval fleet, based in the city of Sebastopol.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, quickly responded by warning Russia “to be very careful in the judgements that it makes”, adding:

“We are not looking for confrontation. But we are making it clear that every country should respect the territorial integrity here, the sovereignty of Ukraine.

“Russia has said it would do that and we think it’s important that Russia keeps its word.”

Later he added it would be a “grave mistake” for Russia to intervene militarily in Ukraine.

“For a country that has spoken out so frequently ... against foreign intervention in Libya, in Syria, and elsewhere, it would be important for them to heed those warnings as they think about options in the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” he said.

“I don’t think there should be any doubt whatsoever that any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge - a grave mistake,” he added.

“If there were any kind of decision like that, I do not think that’s a cheap decision. I think it’s a very expensive decision.”

Mr Kerry also held out the possibility of providing $1 billion in US loan guarantees for Ukraine, as well as US budget support for the former Soviet republic but said no decisions had been made.

Meanwhile Nato defence ministers warned that they considered Ukraine’s future to be “key to Euro-Atlantic security” and assured the new government in Kiev that the alliance would back its “sovereignty, independence [and] territorial integrity.”

“A sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security,” they said in a statement.

The comments appear to be a direct response to sabre rattling by high-ranking Russian officials, including Dmitry Medevedev, the prime minister, who said earlier this week that the revolution in Ukraine posed “a real threat to our interests”.

Tensions have been building since Ukraine’s pro-European protest movement ousted the Moscow-friendly Mr Yanukovych as president on Saturday.

While many throughout the country see the revolution as an uprising against a corrupt and discredited elite, Russian-speaking Ukranians and ethnic Russians - many of whom live in the south and east of the country - are alarmed by what they see as nationalist and Russo-phobic elements among the groups that have seized control in Kiev.

Russia has warned it may act to protect its citizens in the Russian-majority region of Crimea, where it maintains a Navy base and a 25,000-strong garrison.

The new government in Kiev continued to consolidate its grip on power, with the acting president Oleksandr Turchynov assuming command of the armed forces.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister, was proposed as the country’s new prime minister.

A list of suggested cabinet members was read out to a crowd of revolutionaries in Independence Square, allowing them to voice their approval or disapproval of each name.

It will go before Parliament for formal confirmation on Thursday.

Mr Yatsenyuk, 39, is the parliamentary leader of the Fatherland party loyal to Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was defeated at the last election and subsequently imprisoned.

However, he was discredited in the eyes of many protesters because he tried to negotiate a settlement with Mr Yanukovych and signed an agreement with him last week.

Late on Tuesday night parliament disbanded the Berkut, a special riot police unit that is blamed for much of the violence against protesters during the two-and-a-half months of street confrontations that led to Mr Yanukovych’s overthrow.

That move heightened fears in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, however.

The anti-revolutionary mayor of Sebastopol in the Crimea region has promised to retain the unit as part of his municipal police force.

Tensions in Crimea itself reached new heights when at least one person died and seven were injured in a stampede after rival demonstrators clashed in Simferopol, the regional capital.

Several thousand supporters of the new government, almost all male, waved light-blue Crimean Tatar flags and chanted “Crimea is not Russia” and “Bandits out” as they converged on the regional parliament on Wednesday to protest at what they said was an attempt by the assembly to vote for secession from Ukraine.

They faced off with thousands of other demonstrators bearing Russian tricolours who cried “Crimea is Russia” and “Glory to the Berkut”.

Although leaders of both sides shared a podium to appeal for calm, they struggled to control the crowds as the gathering descended into an ill-tempered pushing match.

Several Tatar protesters forced their way into the ground floor of the parliament building to demand a meeting with pro-Russian law makers.

The pro-Russian speaker of the regional parliament denied that secession was under discussion, and accused members of the regional government of spreading rumours about secession “aimed at discrediting the assembly and undermining its legitimacy”.

Many Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority descended from the Mongol armies that conquered the region in 13th century, have allied with pro-revolutionary Ukrainians loyal to the new authorities in Kiev.

Tatar resentment of Moscow dates back to the Second World War, when Stalin deported the entire nation to Central Asia as punishment for allegedly allying with the invading Germans, and sent Russians to live there instead.

Zevdjet Kurtumerov, a Tatar protester, said:

“Moscow’s attitude is complete imperialism: wherever they put their boots, it is Russia. But this is our Ukraine, and we want to keep it.”

But ethnic Russians, who account for about 60 per cent of the population on the peninsula, see Russia as a guarantor of stability and see the Tatars as a pushing an essentially racist agenda.

“They want Crimea to be a Tatar republic. Why not Greek, or Ukrainian, or Russian? No, they want it to be Tatar, and kick out everyone else who lives here,” said Yuri Tomshki, 50, a former soldier and taxi-driver who was wearing the orange and black ribbon of St George, a symbol of the Russian military valor.

“I am Ukrainian by citizenship, but Russian by nationality, and personally I think Crimea should be part of Russia. The minority cannot rule the majority.”

Source: The Telegraph

Putin Drills Ground Troops At Ukraine’s Doorstep As U.S. Warns Against Intervention

MOSCOW, Russia -- President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a surprise exercise of ground and air forces on Ukraine’s doorstep Wednesday, intending to demonstrate his country’s military preparedness at a time of heightened tensions with Europe and the United States over the turmoil gripping Russia’s western neighbor.

Scuffles erupted outside in Crimea as thousands of pro-Russia demonstrators confronted Muslim Crimean Tatars backing the new Ukrainian leadership.

The Obama administration said any Russian military intervention in Ukraine would be a costly and “grave mistake.”

Russia’s military put tens of thousands of troops in western Russia on alert at 2 p.m. for an exercise scheduled to last until March 3.

The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, also announced unspecified measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

The orders came as thousands of ethnic Russians gathered outside the regional parliament in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, to protest the political upheaval in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, that felled the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych over the weekend and turned him into a fugitive.

Crimea was a part of Russian territory until the Soviet Union ceded it to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1954, and Russians there have already pleaded for the Kremlin’s intervention to protect the region and its population from Ukraine’s new leadership.

“Crimea is Russian!,” some of the protesters screamed as brawls erupted with rival demonstrations by Crimea’s ethnic Tatars supporting the new interim authorities. 

While the military maneuvers were largely seen as saber-rattling and not a precursor to armed intervention, they elicited new warnings from Western governments, notably the United States, which reminded Russia of its own admonishments to the West about big-power military adventurism.

 Speaking to a small group of reporters in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said it was important for the Russians “to heed those warnings as they think about options in the sovereign nation of Ukraine and I don’t think there should be any doubt whatsoever that any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge - a grave mistake.”

Mr. Kerry did not specify what the United States was prepared to do in response to a Russian military intervention, focusing instead on what he said the Russians would sacrifice.

“I think it would cost them hugely in the world where they are trying to assert a sort of greater legitimacy with respect to their diplomacy,” he said.

“That would blow it into shreds.”

But Mr. Kerry asserted that the United States did not see Ukraine a East-West battleground, saying:"This is not Rocky IV.”

Mr. Kerry also said the United States was considering a $1 billion package of loan guarantees to Ukraine to help address the deepening economic crisis there, as the interim leaders scrambled on Wednesday to form a new government able to find ways out of an impending default.

They chose as prime minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, a veteran public official who has served as Parliament speaker, foreign minister, economics minister and acting head of the central bank.

The leaders also announced the dissolution of the country’s widely despised riot police force, the Berkut, whose officers were blamed for shooting demonstrators last week in Kiev’s central Independence Square.

“Berkut is gone,” the acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, announced in a posting on Facebook.

General Shoigu announced the snap exercise during a meeting of Russia’s general staff, citing the need to test the readiness of Russia’s armed forces to respond to a “crisis situation,” including a terrorist attack involving biological or chemical weapons.

Senior defense and government officials later said the exercise was not related to the events in Ukraine, which officials here have watched with growing alarm, but they also said there was no reason to postpone them either, and the geopolitical message was clear.

“I think it is flag waving, but it’s more than that also,” Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, said after the announcement of the exercise.

“It’s a message to Kiev not to impose its rule in Crimea by force.”

Mr. Trenin warned that the exercise could have the opposite effect, rallying Ukrainians against Russia if the country’s territorial integrity appeared threatened. 

Russia has refused so far to recognize the legitimacy of the new political powers in Ukraine’s parliament, and denounced their actions since Mr. Yanukovych’s flight as inflammatory and divisive, including what the Foreign Ministry described on Wednesday as discrimination toward Russian Orthodox believers.

Two days earlier Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev said the turmoil posed “a real threat to our interests and to our citizens’ lives and health.”

The Crimea has been a particular focus of concern among Russian lawmakers, many of whom share the sentiment that the region is culturally and historically Russian, not Ukrainian.

The Black Sea Fleet maintains its headquarters in the port of Sevastopol under a lease that Mr. Yanukovych’s government extended until 2042 after a riotous debate in Ukraine’s parliament in 2010.

Mr. Yanukovych, the object of a nationwide manhunt in Ukraine, had been believed to be in hiding in Crimea after he bolted from Kiev on Saturday.

Two Russian news agencies, citing unidentified sources, reported Wednesday night that he had arrived in Moscow.

Other officials dismissed the reports.

“I know definitely that Yanukovych is not in Russia,” said Mikhail V. Margelov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of Parliament.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said he had no information on Mr. Yanukovych’s whereabouts.

Mr. Putin himself has yet to make public remarks on the crisis in Ukraine, but senior officials have vowed not to interfere directly and called on the United States and Europe to do the same.

Even so, the public clamor of ethnic Russians in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine has raised fears that Russia could be provoked to intervene.

“Such a scenario is impossible,” Valentina I. Matviyenko, the chairman of Russia’s upper house of Parliament, said on Wednesday, according to the Interfax news agency.

Russia’s military exercise will involve nearly 150,000 troops, including the entire Western Military District, one of four across the country, as well as hundreds of tanks and artillery batteries, and dozens of aircraft and ships, the deputy defense minister, Anatoly I. Antonov, said, according to Interfax.

The district, headquartered in St. Petersburg, stretches along the border of northeastern Ukraine and includes the 6th and 20th Armies.

The exercise will also involve the 2nd Army in the Central Military District, as well as airborne, aerospace and military transport commands.

Mr. Antonov informed the military attach├ęs of several nations of the exercise, including the United States, as required by an agreement negotiated in 2011 and known as the Vienna Document.

Aleksandr Golts, an independent military analyst in Moscow, said that the exercise theoretically could — and he emphasized the word “theoretically” — disguise a more general mobilization of Russia’s military in case a conflict erupted over Ukraine.

“In my view it’s very bad, even if there are no plans to use the military, that maneuvers are being held with the goal of testing the nerves of others,” he said.

“That these maneuvers will increase the tenseness of this situation — that is not even a question.”

Since Mr. Putin returned to the presidency for a third term in 2012, he has sought to refurbish and modernize the country’s military, which remains reliant on conscripts despite proposed reforms over the years, by increasing spending for weapons and benefits.

Russia conducted a similar exercise last year in the Eastern Military District, which extends across Siberia to the Pacific Coast; it was described as the largest single military drill since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than two decades ago.

The military also held smaller exercises in southern Russia ahead of the Olympic Games in Sochi.

General Shoigu, in his remarks, made clear that Russia’s military ambitions extended beyond its borders.

He said that Russia intended to expand its military operations and presence globally by holding negotiations with Nicaragua, Venezuela, Singapore and the Seychelles to provide logistical support for strategic air patrols.

“We need refueling bases either in the area of the Equator or elsewhere,” he said, according to Interfax.

Source: The New York Times

New Ukraine Ministers Proposed, Russian Troops On Alert

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's protest leaders named the ministers they want to form a new government following the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich, as an angry Russia put 150,000 troops on high alert in a show of strength.

Former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk (front) stands on the stage during a rally in Independence Square in Kiev, February 26, 2014.

President Vladimir Putin's order on Wednesday for soldiers to be ready for war games near Ukraine was the Kremlin's boldest gesture yet after days of sabre rattling since its ally Yanukovich was ousted at the weekend.

Moscow denied that the previously unannounced drill in its western military district was linked to events in its neighbour but it came amid a series of increasingly strident statements about the fate of Russian citizens and interests.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Moscow that "any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge - a grave mistake".

With the political turmoil hammering Ukraine's economy, the central bank said it would no longer intervene to shield the hryvnia currency, which tumbled 4 percent on Wednesday and is now down a fifth since January 1.

Wednesday's abrupt abandonment of Ukraine's currency peg sent ripples to Russia where the rouble fell to five-year lows and bank shares fell.

In Kiev, leaders of the popular protests that toppled Yanukovich on Wednesday named former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk as their choice to head a new interim government.

In a display of people power, the so-called 'Euromaidan' council made its announcement of Yatseniuk, and candidates for other key ministries, after its members addressed crowds on Independence Square, cradle of the insurgency. 


Oleksander Turchinov, now acting president, said the new government would have to take unpopular decisions to head off default and guarantee a normal life for Ukraine's people.

The Euromaidan council's proposals must be approved by parliament, which meets on Thursday in an atmosphere heavy with memories of recent bloodshed, whose hundred or so victims are taking on the status of martyrs.

Yanukovich fled Kiev on Friday night after days of violence in which scores of his countrymen were killed.

The government says it believes he is hiding in Crimea.

It wants him tried at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The council named career diplomat Andriy Deshchytsya as foreign minister.

Oleksander Shlapak, a former economy minister and former deputy head of the central bank, was named as finance minister.

"This is a government which is doomed to be able to work only for 3-4 months ... because they will have to take unpopular decisions," Turchinov said.

If the new ministers are approved, that would pave the way for talks with the International Monetary Fund to stave off financial meltdown now that Russia is expected to cut off a $15 billion (8 billion pounds) lifeline it offered Yanukovich when he turned his back on ties with the EU in November.

Kerry held out the possibility of providing $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees for Ukraine, as well as U.S. budget support.

He said Europe was also considering putting up roughly $1.5 billion in assistance for Ukraine.


Senior EU officials discussed a possible aid package for Ukraine and said officials would travel there alongside experts from the IMF to assess Kiev's financial needs.

In Crimea, thousands of ethnic Russians, who form the majority in the region, demonstrated for independence.

They scuffled with rival demonstrators supporting the new Kiev authorities.

Crimea is home to part of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which Moscow said it was taking steps to secure.

Demonstrators poured into the regional capital Simferopol, where the provincial parliament was debating the crisis.

Pro-Russian crowds, some cossacks in silk and lambswool hats, shouted "Crimea is Russian!".

Rival demonstrators backing the new authorities - mainly ethnic Tatars repressed under Soviet rule - rallied under a pale blue flag, shouting "Ukraine! Ukraine!" 

Russia has repeatedly expressed concern for the safety of Russian citizens in Ukraine, using language similar to statements that preceded its invasion of Georgia in 2008. 

"In accordance with an order from the president of the Russian Federation, forces of the Western Military District were put on alert at 1400 (1000 GMT) today," Interfax news agency quoted Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying.

Shoigu also said Russia was also "carefully watching what is happening in Crimea" and taking "measures to guarantee the safety of facilities, infrastructure and arsenals of the Black Sea Fleet," in remarks reported by state news agency RIA.

Since Yanukovich's downfall, all eyes have been on Putin, who ordered the invasion of neighbouring Georgia in 2008 to protect two self-declared independent regions with many ethnic Russians and others holding Russian passports, and then recognised the regions as independent states.

Any military action in Ukraine, a country of 46 million people that has close ties with European powers and the United States, would be far more serious.

Despite the alarm raised by the sabre-rattling, many analysts expect Putin will pull back before taking armed action.

The war games were probably for show, said Moscow-based military analyst Alexander Golts:

"Any rational analysis says that Russia would get nothing out of military intervention - it would become an international outcast."

Source: Yahoo News

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ukraine 'Disbands Elite Berkut Anti-Riot Police'

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's acting interior minister has said the elite Berkut police unit, blamed for the deaths of protesters, has been disbanded.

The Berkut police unit has been accused of brutality against protesters.

It is unclear what will happen to Berkut officers, but Arsen Avakov said more details would be given in a briefing on Wednesday.

The unit had 4,000-5,000 members stationed across Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a new cabinet is expected to be presented to protesters in Kiev on Wednesday afternoon.

Also on Wednesday Mr Turchynov announced that he had assumed the duties of the head of the armed forces.

Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev at the weekend and his whereabouts are still unknown.

Interim authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest, and on Tuesday parliament voted in favour of trying him at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

The fugitive president is accused of being behind the deaths of more than 100 protesters at the hands of riot police.

Any new government will face a daunting set of challenges, with many areas of government in Ukraine needing urgent reform, the BBC's David Stern in Kiev reports.

The much-despised Berkut are just one part of the security and law enforcement agencies, which have long been accused by human rights groups and local citizens of human rights abuses.

International divisions 

Also on Wednesday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on other countries to condemn "nationalist and neo-fascist" sentiment in western Ukraine.

Mr Lavrov called on the OSCE to condemn "calls to ban the Russian language, to turn the Russian-speaking population into 'non-citizens' and to restrict freedom of expression".

Russia has portrayed the ousting of Mr Yanukovych as a violent seizure of power by the opposition, and has expressed concern about the role of far-right parties in the protests against him.

The US and EU countries have broadly backed the takeover of power by the opposition.

Many Russian-speaking residents in the south and east of Ukraine have protested against the actions of the interim authorities.

Tensions are rising in Crimea, where two big rival protests are being staged.

Crimean Tatars and local activists supporting the demonstrators in Kiev have gathered in front of the autonomous republic's parliament in Simferopol.

They are facing a pro-Russian demonstration, with only a police cordon separating the two rallies.

The Crimean Tatars say they will resist any attempts at secession by pro-Russian political forces.

The two rival rallies have been called ahead of a planned session of Crimea's parliament, where the issue of Crimea's status is expected to be raised.

Crimea - where ethnic Russians are in a majority - was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.

The change of government in Kiev has raised questions over the future of Russia's naval bases in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, the lease for which was extended until 2042 by Mr Yanukovych.

Most experts believe that the new leadership will not push for the withdrawal of the Russian fleet, as this could further threaten Ukraine's internal stability as well as the country's fragile relations with Russia, the BBC's Ilya Abishev reports.

Earlier, Ukraine's Mr Turchynov expressed concern about what he called the serious threat of separatism following the ousting of Mr Yanukovych.

Addressing parliament, he said he would meet law enforcement agencies to discuss the risk of separatism in regions with large ethnic Russian populations.

Separatism was a "serious threat", he said.

Fugitive president 

Mr Yanukovych fled Kiev at the weekend and his whereabouts are still unknown. 

Interim authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest, and on Tuesday parliament voted in favour of trying him at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

The fugitive president is accused of being behind the deaths of more than 100 protesters at the hands of riot police.

Unrest in Ukraine began in November when Mr Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Ukraine is close to bankruptcy and with promised loans from Russia looking increasingly unlikely, interim leaders are looking to the West to bail the country out. 

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton held talks in Kiev on Tuesday to discuss financial and political support for Ukraine's new leaders.

She urged the provisional authorities to include Yanukovych supporters in any new government, adding: "Everyone I've spoken to here recognises the importance of this country sticking together. But we also know that there are big financial and economic challenges in the days, weeks and months ahead."


Ukraine's new leaders are tasked with not just forming a new government, but also stabilizing the country, finding the fugitive former President Viktor Yanukovych, and staving off a looking financial catastrophe.

They must also transform the basic way the country is governed and its economy is run.

In order to unlock billions of dollars in emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund, interim officials must agree to reforms in key areas such as the gas and agriculture industries.

They must also overhaul the country's judiciary, where, in the words of one expert, Adrian Karatnycky of the Atlantic Council, court decisions were decided by "a phone call from the presidential administration."

And there are many more areas.

All them carry heavy political and economic risks, and could spark a backlash from interested or affected groups - for instance, the Berkut themselves.

Or Ukrainians forced to pay higher gas prices.

Or the industry tycoons, who will see their revenues diminish.

But not doing anything will also unleash a reaction - especially from the still-present protestors on the Maidan.

The government can't afford not to act.

Source: BBC News

Tension In Crimea As Ukraine Acting President Turchynov Warns Of Separatist Danger

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov has warned of “dangerous signs of separatism” in parts of the country, amid anger at the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych from power.

A Russian armoured personnel carrier is driven on a street in Sevastopol, Ukraine's Black Sea Port that hosts a major Russian navy base. Ethnic Russians in the region are deeply suspicious of the new Ukrainian authorities who replaced fugitive Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

According to his spokesman, he said anyone held responsible for separatist moves should be punished.

His comments echo those of some MPs who have voiced fears that Ukraine could split because of anger in the east and south at recent events.

Residents of the Crimean port of Sevastopol have been signing up as volunteers for self-defence and pro-Russian groups, fearing potential attacks by Ukrainian extremists.

Protesters on the southern peninsula have staged rallies against Ukraine’s new leaders and a Russian-speaking mayor has been appointed in Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based.

Some 20,000 people turned out at another rally in the city on Monday, chanting “Russia” as they called for secession from Ukraine.

The previous day saw an even bigger demonstration.

Almost 60 percent of the region’s population are ethnic Russians.

Russian MPs visiting Sevastopol met residents and denied reports that Russian passports would be given to all Ukrainians who apply.

Sergei Mironov, head of a pro-Kremlin party’s parliamentary faction, said those Ukrainians who wanted Russian citizenship should be given passports as quickly as possible.

“The geopolitical struggle for Ukraine should not come to resettling the population (of Ukraine) to Russia by giving them Russian passports. This would be the greatest mistake and even a tragedy for Russia,” Crimean human rights activist Olga Timofeyeva told the delegation from Moscow.

A senior figure in the Russian Duma acknowledged that such a sensitive move would inflame Kiev.

“This is a very sensitive issue. It has to be worked on by a number of federal departments. This has to be decided by the highest authorities in Russia. And of course we should understand that if such proposals are legally approved in Russia the reaction of Kiev will be very negative. We can’t do anything which could provoke armed response and bloodshed with respect to primarily and including our compatriots,” said deputy chairman of Russian Duma foreign affairs committee Leonid Slutsky.

But moves are afoot in Crimea to challenge the authority of whatever new national government is formed.

An extraordinary session of the Crimean Rada – the region’s parliament – is due to be held on Wednesday.

Its speaker has said it will not recognise new decisions of the national parliament in Kiev.

Source: euronews

Vladimir Putin Orders Test Of Combat Readiness, Raising Fears Over Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has reportedly ordered an immediate test of combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia in a move that will dramatically elevate fears of a separatist threat to Ukraine, already ravaged by weeks of violent protest that led to the removal of its pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

A poster depicting the toppled Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and the former prime minister, Mykola Azarov, behind bars attached to a tent of opposition supporters.

Russia's state news agencies quoted the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, saying Putin ordered the test at 2pm Moscow time on Wednesday.

The Kremlin was unable to confirm the order.

The provocative display of Russian military muscle comes as Ukraine's interim leadership urgently sought to win the confidence of its divided and economically ravaged nation with the creation of a new unity government.

Pro-European protesters filled Kiev's Maidan square – the seat of the Ukrainian revolution – preparing to meet the replacement cabinet proposed by Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, on Wednesday, as Turchynov dismissed the country's feared riot police.

Turchynov had warned on Tuesday that the country faced a serious threat from separatism amid fears the Kremlin may be stoking pro-Russian sentiment in the Crimean peninsula.

"We discussed the question of not allowing any signs of separatism and threats to Ukraine's territorial integrity and punishing people guilty of this," Turchynov said after meeting key officials.

Before Wednesday's military manouevre, a visiting Russian parliamentarian said on Tuesday that Moscow would act in the event of heightened tension over the Crimean peninsula.

"If the life and health of our compatriots is under threat, we will not stand to one side," the parliamentarian, Leonid Slutsky, said after arriving in the regional capital of Simferopol for a one-day visit.

Slutsky, who leads the Russian Duma's committee for relations with former Soviet states, declined to say what sort of action Russia might take.

AFP reported that two armoured personnel carriers were deployed near Russian military installations in Ukraine's second port of Sevastopol on Tuesday.

One of the vehicles was on a base belonging to Russia's Black Sea fleet while another was parked in the courtyard of a navy building in the city centre.

A spokesman for the fleet in Sevastopol refused to comment on the deployment of the vehicles but local media reported that they had been sent out in case of "terrorist attacks".

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, warned the EU and US not to try to shape Ukraine's future.

"It is dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle 'You are either with us or against us'," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.

Russia and the west should use political contacts in Ukraine to calm the situation and not seek advantage when national dialogue was needed, Lavrov added.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the British foreign secretary, William Hague, have rejected the suggestion that Ukraine is being forced to choose between east and west.

"This is not a zero-sum game, it is not west versus east," said Kerry after hosting Hague in Washington.

The Ukrainian government faces foreign debt payments of $13bn (£7.8bn) this year and has less than $18bn in its fast depleting coffers – a grim equation that has forced it to seek as much as $35bn from western states.

Moscow has frozen payments on a massive bailout package promised by its president, Putin, to Yanukovych as his reward for rejecting closer EU ties.

Both the United States and Britain have publicly backed the idea of putting together an economic rescue for Ukraine that would be overseen by the International Monetary Fund.

Hague stressed after the talks with Kerry that "this is a country that needs financial assistance from many sources, including from Russia".

However, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, wrapped up a two-day visit to Kiev on Tuesday by mentioning only a "short-term" economic solution for Ukraine while saying nothing about extending the billions of dollars in credit requested by Turchynov.

On Tuesday, the parliament in Kiev voted to send Yanukovych to The Hague to be tried over the violence that led to at least 82 deaths in Kiev last week.

He is on the run and believed to be in Crimea, but has not been seen in public since Sunday.

The parliament voted that Vitali Zakharchenko, the former interior minister, and Viktor Pshonka, the prosecutor general, should also be sent to the international criminal court.

They have fled Kiev, along with other key Yanukovych aides.

There were reports on Tuesday afternoon that Andriy Kluyev, Yanukovych's chief of staff, had been wounded during a gun battle.

He was reported to have been shot in the leg after his car came under fire when he was travelling back to Kiev, allegedly after visiting Yanukovych in Crimea.

None of the details could be confirmed.

Outside Kiev, Yanukovych's extravagant residence has been opened to the public, and Ukrainian investigative journalists have begun releasing to the web incriminating documents found at the mansion, in a project called "Yanukovych leaks".

They say they have found evidence of corruption as well as plans to clear Independence Square of protesters using force.

Pictures from Pshonka's mansion were also posted online, including one shot of a portrait of the prosecutor general dressed as a Roman emperor and another of hundreds of lavish gold ornaments.

In The Hague, the international criminal court said it had not yet received a request from the new Ukrainian government to investigate events in Kiev.

Oleh Tiahnybok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, said: "It is very important that we had a positive vote today. Now we are inviting all the people of goodwill who have any materials including video, photos or papers that we may need to properly submit to The Hague tribunal the papers about crimes against people, crimes against Ukrainians, and violations of human rights that were committed by those criminals in Yanukovych's regime."

Senior figures in Washington have claimed that in the days before he fled the capital, Yanukovych spent at least an hour in consultation over the phone with Joe Biden, the US vice-president.

According to the anonymous US officials, Biden found the beleaguered Ukrainian leader to be initially defiant, accusing protesters in control of the Kiev streets of terrorism.

Speaking through a translator from his office in the west wing of the White House, Biden reportedly warned Yanukovych that leaders in his position were often "a day late and a dollar short" in their attempts to appease political protesters.

The parliament will select a new prime minister on Thursday, and presidential elections are scheduled for 25 May.

The retired heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko confirmed on Tuesday that he would run.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was released from jail on Saturday, has not indicated whether she will stand.

She said she would travel to Germany in March for treatment for a back problem which has confined her to a wheelchair.

Vladimir Putin has not yet commented on the situation, but the parliamentary visit to Crimea will further stoke tensions.

Crowds in Simferopol and Sevastopol on Tuesday called on local authorities to reject Ukraine's new government.

A crowd of about 100 people gathered outside the local administration in Sevastopol cheered when a Russian armoured personnel carrier rolled past – an apparently routine occurrence in the port city.

The night before, the city council handed power to Aleksei Chaliy, a Russian citizen, while more than 1,000 people gathered around city hall chanting.

"Russia, Russia, Russia" and "a Russian mayor for a Russian city".

Viktor Neganov, a Sevastopol-based adviser to the interior minister, condemned the events in the city as a coup.

"Chaliy represents the interests of the Kremlin, which probably gave its tacit approval," he said.

The Crimean peninsula, which is the only region of Ukraine with a majority of ethnic Russians, was Russian territory until 1954.

Moscow recently extended its lease on a large naval base in Sevastopol to 2042. 

Source: The Guardian

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ukrainian Interim Leader To Complete Government

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's interim President Olexander Turchynov is due to form a unity government, days after the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Tributes are being left in Kiev's Independence Square to those who were killed during last week's clashes.

Senior Western diplomats are continuing talks in Kiev with the interim leadership, while the US and UK are to discuss emergency financial assistance.

The US has yet to endorse the new leader, but says "Mr Yanukovych is no longer actively leading the country".

An arrest warrant has been issued for Mr Yanukovych, who has disappeared.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a criminal case had been opened against the ousted president and other officials over "mass murder of peaceful citizens".

Mr Yanukovych was last reported seen on Sunday in Balaklava on the Crimean peninsula - an autonomous region where the majority of the population is ethnically Russian.

Dozens of people were killed in clashes between anti-Yanukovych protesters and riot police last week.

British investigators have told the BBC they are operating on the ground in Ukraine to help establish who was responsible for the most deadly day of violence last Thursday.

They say they are gathering evidence which could be used to prosecute suspects. 

They refused to reveal their identities or who had tasked them with the investigation, saying it was a politically sensitive issue.

'People's government' 

Mr Turchynov has promised that his coalition administration will be a "government of the people".

His ally, former PM Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from jail on Saturday, has ruled out becoming prime minister.

But her spokeswoman said she had not yet decided whether to run for the presidency.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, where Mr Yanukovych has enjoyed support, the head of the regional state administration has said he will run for the presidency.

Speaking on Kanal 5 TV, he gave as his reason "the fact that a total attack on the rights of the Russian-speaking population is under way, that laws are being adopted that threaten all those who do not accept fascism and Nazism".

Mr Dobkin has been under pressure from local demonstrators to quit.

On Monday, Russia issued its strongest response yet to the ousting of Mr Yanukovych, questioning the legitimacy of the Western-leaning interim leadership. 

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said they had conducted an "armed mutiny".

White House official Jay Carney said on Monday that although Mr Yanukovych "was a democratically elected leader, his actions have undermined his legitimacy, and he is not actively leading the country at present''.

Unrest in Ukraine began in November when Mr Yanukovych rejected a landmark association and trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. 

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington later to discuss emergency financial assistance to Kiev.

Mr Hague has warned that Ukraine faces imminent economic collapse without support from the international community.

The US has already said it is ready to give financial support to Ukraine to complement any future loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Ukraine is facing bankruptcy and further promised loans from Russia are looking increasingly unlikely.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton remains in Kiev to discuss financial and political support for Ukraine's new leaders.

On Monday she visited Independence Square - the scene of deadly clashes between protesters and police - and held talks with Mr Turchynov.

Senior US officials, including Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, will join EU officials in Kiev to participate in two days of meetings with political, business and civil society leaders.

Western leaders, including French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have sent written appeals to Russian President Vladimir Putin to urge a peaceful transition in Ukraine.

Crimea and some pro-Russian areas in the east have seen protests against the overthrow of Mr Yanukovych, sparking fears that Ukraine could be split apart by separatist movements.

Thousands of people remain in Kiev's Independence Square, the Maidan.

Who is running Ukraine?
  • Olexander Turchynov - deputy leader of the Fatherland party and a long-time opponent of Mr Yanukovych; appointed interim president 
  • Arsen Avakov - also a key Fatherland MP, now interim interior minister 
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk - parliamentary leader of Fatherland and the main negotiator during Maidan protests; tipped as a possible future prime minister 
  • Vitali Klitschko - boxer turned politician who was a leading figure in the Maidan; heads Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (Udar); expected to run for presidency 
  • Oleh Tyahnybok - leader of far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party; key Maidan protest leader 
  • Yulia Tymoshenko - former prime minister and opponent of Mr Yanukovych; released from jail as opposition took control of parliament; has ruled out running for PM
Yanukovych's flight from Kiev 

  • 21 Feb: leaves Kiev for Kharkiv on helicopter; stays overnight in state residence 
  • 22 Feb: flies by helicopter to Donetsk airport; tries to leave on private jet but stopped by border guards; leaves by car for Crimea 
  • 23 Feb: arrives in Balaklava, Crimea, and stays briefly in a private spa before making aborted attempt to reach Belbek airport 
  • Dismisses most of his security detail; leaves Balaklava in a three-car convoy with some guards and ex-presidential administration head Andriy Kluyev
Source: BBC News

Russia Cries ‘Mutiny’ Over Change In Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian leaders expressed their distrust and dislike of Ukraine’s new government on Monday, saying it came to power through “armed mutiny,” just hours after the authorities here announced a nationwide manhunt for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych on charges of “mass murder of peaceful civilians.”

Protesters carry a cross to places in Kiev’s Independence Square where anti-government demonstrators were killed in clashes with police last week. The new government of Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych to face charges of “mass murder of peaceful civilians.”

Russia questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine’s interim leadership, charging that it used a peace deal brokered by Europe to make a power grab and to suppress dissent in Russian-speaking regions through “terrorist methods.”

The tone was much harsher than any previous Russian response to the events of the past few days.

“If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be a government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday.

Ukrainian lawmakers, now largely foes of Yanukovych, were defiant.

Asked about Russia’s displeasure, parliament member Yuriy Derevyanko said: “They can take it or leave it. It’s not their business.”

The search for Yanukovych was backed up by warrants authorizing the arrest of the ousted leader and 50 members of his government for their roles in the deaths of 88 Ukrainians killed by riot police and in street clashes over the past week, said Arsen Avakov, the interim interior minister.

Ukrainian officials said Yanukovych has used helicopters and ground vehicles to travel from his palatial estate outside Kiev to Kharkiv in the east, and then on to an airport in Donetsk, where border guards stopped two chartered jets from leaving the country.

Some suspect that he may have moved on to Ukraine’s Crimea region, which has a strong Russian-speaking majority.

Ukraine’s parliament was rushing ahead to form a caretaker government and appoint a new prime minister.

The move is crucial to help the country continue to meet its financial obligations and, most important, to borrow money.

The legislative body has called for a presidential election May 25, and it declared Monday that candidates can announce themselves and begin their campaigns Tuesday.

Protesters in Independence Square in central Kiev began to return home.

The capital city was sunny and peaceful, with offices and businesses open again, and traffic normal.

Visitors to Yanukovych’s presidential Web site were greeted with an “error” message.

Journalists poring over documents left behind at Yanukovych’s mansion found lists of expenses, including one citing a $2.3 million bill for the decoration of a dining hall and tea room.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, arrived in Kiev on Monday, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew held a phone conversation with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader of the protests.

But Medvedev, the Russian premier, heaped scorn on the West for what he called its “aberration of consciousness” for endorsing the toppling of Yanukovych’s democratically elected government.

At the same time, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spoke out in defense of members of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking minority, who live primarily in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

A statement on the ministry’s Web site warned of attempts to “nearly ban” the Russian language, purge Yanukovych loyalists from the ranks of government, stifle the press and permit neo-Nazi propaganda.

It accused Ukraine’s new leaders of launching a “dictatorial, and sometimes even terrorist” campaign against Russian speakers.

Similarly hostile rhetoric was voiced by Mikhail Dobkin, governor of the eastern region around Kharkiv, where many Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language.

He denounced the “fascism” of the new authorities in Kiev.

At the same time, Dobkin announced that he would run for president in the May election — a sign that, however dismayed, he is prepared to play by the new rules and enter the electoral fray.

The Ukrainian parliament passed a law Monday downgrading the status of Russian as an official second language, and there were calls for the ouster of Yanukovych’s allies, but Russia did not provide evidence to support its other charges.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Russia has nothing to worry about.

Threats to Russian citizens “are ungrounded because the situation is stable and under control,” the ministry’s press secretary, Yevhen Perebiynis, told the news agency Interfax.

Russia has recalled its ambassador to Ukraine.

On Monday, its sanitary service — notorious for discovering health problems with imports from countries that Russia is having a spat with — announced that it was prepared to ban foodstuffs from Ukraine on the grounds that the turmoil here could have led to lapsed standards.

The Russian denunciations have stoked fears that Moscow is encouraging a breakup of Ukraine, but such a drastic move seems distant.

Tetiana Maliarenko, a professor at Donetsk State University of Management, in Yanukovych’s industrial home town in eastern Ukraine, called threats of a split, or a division into separate federated republics, an attempt to blackmail Ukraine’s new leaders and said such a partition was not a serious possibility.

“I am confident it will not split in the near future,” she said.

“There is public support for separatism, here and in the Crimea, and separatism was always on the table, but at the same time there is no project for a future independent state and no strong leaders to do this. There is a Russian-led movement, but there is no one who can do it.”

Source: The Washington Post

Monument To Corruption: Ukraine's Most-Wanted Man Built $75M Home On A $25G Salary

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine’s most-wanted man, ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, remains on the run as his stunned countrymen tour his dream home, the impoverished nation’s answer to Versailles and what some are calling a “monument to corruption.”

An exterior view of the main building in the residence and one of the rooms decorated with imported natural marble, Italian crystal and precious woods.

Yanukovych, who reported earned less than $25,000 per year for most of his political career, is believed to have owned several homes around the economically-strapped nation, but none symbolized his greed and corruption more than the $75 million mansion he completed in Mezhyhirya in 2012.

Built on the site of a Soviet-era dacha, the 340-acre estate, just north of Kiev on the bank of the Dnieper River, has features that would make the stickiest-fingered dictator blush, according to

In a 2012 article on the excesses of Mezhyhirya, the nonprofit site reported that:

Each of the mansion’s Lebanese cedar doors cost $64,000.

Three sets of wooden paneling for staircases cost $200,000.

Cladding for a neoclassical column and parapet for a flight of steps cost $430,000.

In just 18 months, Yanukovych spent nearly $9.5 million on imported fittings for the home.

“In a country where 35 percent of the population lives under the poverty line, spending $100,000 on each individual chandelier seems excessive, to say the least,” wrote Sergii Leshchenko.

Yanukovych even used the people’s money to build a gleaming new highway connecting Mezhyhirya to Kiev shortly after he came to power in 2010.

The story of how Yanukovych acquired the 340-acre estate where he built his dream home illustrates his brazen abuse of power to enrich himself, say critics.

The property, built on the site of a 14th century monastery, was originally a Soviet-era dacha, or country home, used by communist leaders as a getaway.

After Ukraine gained its independence from Russia, it was used to accommodate foreign delegations.

But when Yanukovych was appointed prime minister in 2002, he moved into the dacha.

First, he rented the home; then, after a series of changes in Ukraine’s government that saw him leave and return to power, he simply took the home for himself, according to

When he became president in 2010, he demolished all of the buildings at Mezhyhirya and began building his dream home, a five-story stone palace replete with imported marble floors, gold fixtures and exotic wood -- and surrounded by a 35-mile long, 15-foot high fence.

Although he often bragged about his home to other world leaders, his ego did have a limit:

When the Finnish construction company that built it for him sought to nominate it for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records based on its sheer size, Yanukovych blocked the move.

The 63-year-old Yanukovych served as president of Ukraine from 2010 until last week, when he was ousted from power in what he called a coup.

He is now the nation’s most-wanted man, accused of a litany of crimes -- including murder and corruption.

A political survivor who as a teen served prison time for robbery and assault, Yanukovych rose from a career as a trucking manager and mechanical engineer in the 1970s and 1980s to a minor position in the province of Donestk.

In 1997, he became the governor of Donetsk, serving until 2002 when he became prime minister of Ukraine.

He held that position for two years, before failing in his first bid to become president.

But he returned as prime minister in 2006, serving another two years and setting the stage for his election to the presidency in February 2010.

With the manhunt now on for the ousted kleptocrat, the home reporters called a “monument to corruption” is open to the people, with opposition guards on hand to prevent looting.

Thousands of Ukrainians poured onto the grounds over the weekend, marveling at the sheer opulence in which their former president lived.

Visitors gawked in awe and outrage at the ponds and exotic animals, and journalists combed through heaps of documents that appeared to show a leader who basked in extravagant wealth while his country sought bailouts from both the West and Russia. 

Many of the financial and other documents were burned, while others were dumped in a lake before Yanukovych fled his closely guarded residence, flying to the eastern city of Kharkiv, where his support base is strongest.

Divers were able to retrieve many of the documents, and activists laid them out to dry.

The drying papers included a bank receipt for $12 million in cash, a $2.3 million receipt for the decoration of a dining hall and a $115,000 price tag for a statue of a wild boar.

Photos of the documents were posted online by Mustafa Nayem, a top Ukrainian investigative journalist for the Ukrainska Pravda website and online news channel.

Yanukovych remains at large, but for now it seems clear he will never again dwell in the lavish home he built.

Freedom-minded Ukrainians, still stunned at the greed of their ousted president, are calling for the home to be turned into a hospital, sanatorium or even a “museum of corruption."

Source: AP

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nervous Uncertainty Across Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainians are to trying to re-establish authority across the country after the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Government buildings in Kiev were still being guarded on Monday by anti-Yanukovych activists.

But there is still considerable anger, especially in mainly Russian-speaking areas.

BBC correspondents report on the mood in cities across Ukraine.

Here in the large, north-eastern city of Kharkiv, there was some lawlessness on Saturday but everything is now back to normal.

There is, however, one exception: the central square - one of the largest in Europe - where a stand-off continues between those who back the Maidan protests and those opposed.

Each side has mustered some 200-300 supporters. 

At one end of the square, the pro-Maidan activists took over the entrance to the regional administration on Saturday.

After scuffles with the pro-Russian protesters, they erected a barricade in a semi-circle around 15m (50ft) from the entrance.

The building also houses the regional parliament, city parliament and other institutions.

Immediately in front of the barricade is a protective line of police with shields.

On the opposition side of the square, some distance away, the pro-Russians surrounded the statue of Lenin with makeshift small barricades and lit fires, just as the anti-government protesters had done in Kiev.

On Monday, their opponents promised they would open the administration building for all officials but one - Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin, who was appointed by the ousted president.

On Sunday he promised to return to work and said he would give a briefing at 09:00 GMT on Monday but postponed it without explanation.

Both he and the mayor were said to have fled, but the mayor, Gennady Kernes, said on Sunday he was willing to co-operate with the Kiev authorities for the sake of Kharkiv's citizens.

In Kiev, the cradle of the revolution, Monday dawned as a regular work day, after a weekend of earth-shifting events.

The metro is running, streets are clogged with cars, and businesses in the city centre are once again operating.

The capital is finally at peace.

But running beneath this return to relative normality is an uncertainty and disquiet over what will happen next.

Ukraine's new leaders are faced with a number of imperative tasks.

Not the least of these is the need to finish the formation of the government itself. 

Interim President Olexander Turchynov must placate rumblings in the country's east and south, and somehow locate the fugitive Viktor Yanukovych, to prevent him from mounting any challenge to the new authorities.

Moreover, Ukraine is facing a five-alarm economic emergency.

According to Mr Turchynov, the country is on the verge of default.

Billions of dollars must be found. Now.

And while all this unfolds, eyes are glancing nervously east, to neighbouring Russia, which has now recalled its ambassador.

Moscow has a wide assortment of items in its toolbox, should it want to complicate the new government's existence - from a hike in gas prices to an economic embargo, to much worse.

But, above all, the new government must instil confidence that it is up to the job.

All Ukrainians are watching, transfixed.

But perhaps the group that is paying the closest attention is the Euromaidan activists, who still occupy Kiev's Independence Square.

They have now assumed a role similar to the ancient Roman forum, with an ability to influence the selection - and removal - of leaders.

If they are unsatisfied with how events develop, they have promised they will act.

And as we have already seen, they mean what they say.

There was no reply at The House That Viktor Built when I visited this morning.

One of the now ex-president's homes stands behind a huge wall on Raynisa Street in Donetsk.

The doorbell chimes but there's no response.

Rumours have swirled that Viktor Yanukovych tried to fly from Donetsk to Russia over the weekend but his plane was stopped by custom officers.

His support has ebbed even here - but this still remains his power base.

He was born just outside the city and was governor of the region.

This pro-Russian part of Ukraine looks east rather than west and won't take kindly to comments by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov that the country should move closer to Europe.

As light snow fell over Donetsk today, the mood was cautious.

One man, Sasha, told us he wouldn't mind reunification with Russia.

"We can't get along with the rest of Ukraine," he said.

But the majority seems to want to keep Ukraine together.

Even those demonstrating on the main square here in support of Russia and against the anti-government crowd in Kiev said they were for a united Ukraine - but one which respected all political sympathies.

The deep splits in this country have been laid bare these past few days.

And the challenge of uniting a polarised nation is a huge one.

Source: BBC News

Warrant Issued For Arrest Of Ousted Yanukovych

KIEV, Ukraine -- Fugitive Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, ousted after bloody street protests in which demonstrators were shot by police snipers, is wanted for mass murder, authorities announced today.

Photos of people reported to have died during clashes in Kiev at a makeshift memorial in the Little Ukraine section of the Manhattan borough of New York.

As rival neighbours east and west of the former Soviet republic said a power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to the country breaking apart, acting president Oleksander Turchinov said Ukraine’s new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a “new, equal and good-neighbourly footing that recognises and takes into account Ukraine’s European choice”.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Ukraine today, where she is expected to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy, which the finance ministry said required $35 billion in foreign aid over the next two years, with the first tranche needed within two weeks.

Mr Yanukovich, who vanished on Saturday, is still at large.

“An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened,” acting interior minister Arsen Avakov wrote on his Facebook profile.

“Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted,” he said.

Mr Yanukovich had left a private residence in Balaclava, in the Russian-speaking Crimea region, for an unknown destination in a car with one of his aides, Mr Avakov said.

On Independence Square in central Kiev, cradle of the uprising, barricades of old furniture and car tyres remained in place, with smoke rising from camp fires among tents occupied by diehards vowing to stay until elections in May.

The mood among the few hundred on the square was a mixture of fatigue, sorrow for the 82 people killed last week, and a sense of victory after three months of protests.

A large video screen by the side of the stage was showing the faces of the dead, one after another, on a loop.

“Now is not the time for celebrating. We are still at war. We will stay here as long as we have to,” said Grigoriy Kuznetsov (53), dressed in black combat fatigues.

Halina Kravchuk, a middle-aged woman from Kiev, was holding a carnation.

“We are looking to Europe now. We have hope. We want to join Europe,” she said.

Russia on Sunday recalled its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations on the “deteriorating situation” in Kiev.

A day after Mr Yanukovich fled, parliament named its new speaker, Mr Turchinov, as interim head of state.

An ally of the ousted leader’s rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, he aims to swear in a government by tomorrow that can run things until a presidential election on May 25th.

With battle-hardened, pro-Western protesters in control of Kiev and determined to hold their leaders to account, lawmakers rushed through decisions to cement their power, display their rejection of rampant corruption and bring to account officials who ordered police to fire on Independence Square.

But whoever takes charge as interim prime minister faces a huge challenge to satisfy popular expectations and will find an economy in deep crisis.

Source: The Irish Times